A single test does not constitute an evaluation

Opponents and would-be reformers of the No Child Left Behind law may have cause to celebrate this year, as both sides of the political fence unite in their criticism of President Bush’s once widely-supported education reform.

The law, intended to increase accountability for schools, requires public school students to be tested each year in third through eighth grade and once in high school. It will expire this year if it’s not renewed by Congress. The Associated Press reported Monday that attendees of the annual convention of the National Education Association wore buttons that read “A child is more than a test score,” while Democratic presidential candidates spoke out against the current law. Meanwhile, an editorial in Monday’s Washington Post focused on the opposition that has surprisingly arisen from former Bush aides who were largely involved in bringing the law about in the first place.

Such united opposition means that the law is unlikely to be renewed, at least in its current form, which can only be a good thing. Having students’ success or failure for an entire year based on the results of a monolithic exam administered on a single day is simply poor logic. A student could be ill that day, or otherwise impaired – by events at home or tiredness, for example.

Additionally, a student may simply have difficulty taking a standardized exam, despite having the skills being tested. The pressure to perform at the highest level on a single day can be counterproductive as well.

Advocates for changing the law posit a variety of options, from spreading out the testing over the school year to giving individual states the flexibility to determine what the standards to be tested should be. Such options are a good start, but do not address the widespread problem of teaching to the test.

This problem can only be solved by removing the absolute power invested in the test and restoring a significant portion to those who should have retained it all along: the school faculty. No standardized test will ever sufficiently replace the evaluation of the actual teachers of students. Though no individual teacher should be able to determine a student’s success or lack thereof, such input should be an integral part of that equation. When a discrepancy occurs between the test scores and the actual ability of the student, that input could, and should, mean the difference between passing and failing.

While more challenging to implement than a singular device, a balanced system such as this is far more likely to produce real education reform.